, Salem, MA

December 12, 2013

Our view: Local leaders should follow Tierney's lead on FEMA mapping

The Salem News

---- — It was encouraging to learn from Congressman John Tierney that a number of elected federal officials are now pressing to delay and more fully study the new flood insurance rate maps and regulations pushed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that will result in sharply higher federal flood insurance rates.

For if these maps and guidelines ever go into effect — costing homeowners thousands of additional dollars annually — it’s essential that homeowners and officials alike can be confident the risk maps are legitimate, not just arbitrary projections.

But while Tierney is helping to lead a push for flood insurance answers in the nation’s capital, municipal officials on the North Shore and across the rest of his 6th District should provide him the support he needs — filing their own appeals to challenge the maps on behalf of their homeowners and other residents as well.

Tierney, who made his remarks on a visit last week to the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce, noted that the initial FEMA mandates, which were due to begin taking effect this past October but have now been pushed back for residential property owners to Oct. 1, 2014, were to have included a study outlining how the levels of risk are calculated, and how an equitable system could be created.

But FEMA officials didn’t carry out the study because the department had run out of resources for the project.

That, of course, can only cast doubt on the entire process. Anyone wondering why residents might not trust the new maps need only refer to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s track record when it comes to fishery science and the resulting regulatory process.

Tierney noted that the Biggert-Waters Act, the guiding legislation for these reforms and updates, includes an appeal process. And while lawmakers are pushing for FEMA to carry out the initial study that was never funded, Tierney said that cities and towns should carefully examine and can appeal the flood-zone maps.

Indeed, Tierney indicated that the maps were developed “based on new technology” from the air while simply flying over coastal areas. That sounds like a process eerily similar to NOAA’s penchant for haphazard trawling, then setting catch limits and regulations based on computer models that have been cutting fishermen the short end of the stick despite their record of landing catches and sighting stocks that defy the NOAA models.

There’s no assurance that any effort by Tierney, other lawmakers, or local municipal leaders will reverse FEMA’s push for revisions that are really rooted in the need to adapt coastal landscapes to climate change.

But local officials should indeed follow the congressman’s lead, and ensure that coastal property owners in all of our communities get the fair shake they deserve.